The Limits of Disgust: Eating the Inedible During Jamestown’s Starving Time

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This article reexamines the dietary choices made by English colonists during the notorious Starving Time of 1609–10. During moments of crisis, like the Starving Time, attitudes toward foods normally deemed disgusting, such as vermin and human flesh, could be recalibrated. Ideas of edibility and permissible dietary behavior were pliable, changeable, and grounded in a social environment in which hunger and ill health were pervasive but nonetheless considered preventable. As this article demonstrates, at moments when human life was in peril, disgust for certain foods was replaced with novel approaches to hunger relief, malleable beliefs about the health benefits of particular foods, and the conviction that most people who went hungry knew the limits of acceptable dietary behavior. Whether rhetorically or practically, disgust and its relationship to food had its limits.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Food History
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2023


  • cannibalism
  • Disgust
  • England
  • food history
  • medicine
  • Virginia


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